Poltergeist VS Poltergeist II

Recently my wife and I have had continuing conversations about which is the better film, Poltergeist 1 or Part 2. While I do really love the sequel, I've always been a bigger fan of the first film for a number of reasons, where my wife is a bigger fan of the sequel. So then we get into a spirited and comfortable debate about why our pick is better than the other. We've had this discussion so many times in fact that we decided to revisit both of them just this past week to finally get a fresh perspective on it. So let's dig in.

Being the age that I am, which means I was a kid when they were first released in the 80's and watched them quite often, even up until now, I can honestly say I've probably seen both of them well over a hundred times each, and each time is just as entertaining as the last. But it wasn't until this past week, when I really had to study them and take note of the very specific elements that they both had to offer, that I figured out what made each of them so great and special individually.

Poltergeist (1982)

With the first film in the franchise, I've always been drawn by it's visual aesthetic. That's the main thing that draws me in every single time with this one. I know, the debate can go on forever as to who actually directed it, Tobe Hooper (credited) or Spielberg. I've read every single article, interview and behind the scenes stuff I could find on the subject, and there's still no clear definitive answer. You can ask two different actors who were on set and worked most days of filming, and you'll get two different answers. So I don't know if we'll ever truly know. But, knowing both of their particular styles and skills really well, my feelings are that Poltergeist carries equal parts Hooper and Spielberg, neither being more dominant than the other. Not only that, but it also displays the best of what each director has to offer. There are moments that feel pure 80's Tobe Hooper, and then there are moments where this film is pure classic Spielberg, and that's absolutely fine with me because in the end, this combative collaboration between two powerhouses produced one of the most iconic, visually stunning, commercially successful and entertaining ghost stories ever.

While this first entry offers up a lot of memorable elements like the excellent casting, score, time period (1982!) and it's story, for me it's the films specific visual tone and it's outstanding practical effects work. Few films leave this kind of impression on me and this one always has, even as a kid. It's as if the very best of both Hooper and Spielberg's directing sensibilities collided at the peak of their creative careers, with Spielberg just coming off of E.T. (his most visually stunning film to date), and Hooper transitioning towards more visually impressive films like Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars just a few years later.

Poltergeist II: 
The Other Side (1986)

Outside of my feelings that the character of Reverend Kane is hands-down one of the most eerie, most iconic and most unsettling characters ever put to film, I never put much thought into the film itself. I liked it, but other than Julian Beck's incredible portrayal of Kane, nothing ever really stood out about it to me. But that never stopped me from revisiting it often throughout the years. Because even so, it's a very good film.

Revisiting this one recently made me understand just how good this film really is. In fact, I've come to realize that it's just about as entertaining as the first film, only in a completely different way. While the first film has a more slow buildup, focusing on the family dynamic before moving into the ghost story aspect later, this one is much more darker and feels more like a true blue horror film compared to the first film right from the beginning. The film set's it's dark tone early on and never lets up as it builds to it's climax that never really deliver's on it's full potential, yet stays true to it's tone.

What easily gives the film a lot of it's character is how director Brian Gibson chose to shoot it. His no-frills approach delivers a solid "dark" ambiance to the already moody atmosphere, and it perfectly compliments the film. Sure the first one was a much prettier and more stylish affair, but this one delivers the goods just as effectively, only in a much  more subdued manner. Poltergeist II possesses such a dark unsettling tone compared to the first film that it's often considered a standout when it comes to sequels and a lot of people's personal favorite in the series.

It took me long enough to come around and truly appreciate this excellent sequel. I guess I always had, but I never really thought of it as an important one until now. While not as flashy as it's predecessor, it contains other elements that makes it equally as engrossing and entertaining. We just won't talk about the third one...


Documentary Roundup: Tower & Mommy Dead and Dearest

Tower (2016)

Netflix began offering this a few weeks ago, and I don't know how or where I heard of it or read up on it, but I somehow knew it was about the Austin, TX sniper shooting from back in 1966 before even seeing the cover art or a single image. I live in Texas, and lived in Austin for a time years ago, and this story is steeped in our history and subconscious, even if you're a kid. You've just "heard" of this because it was one of the first of it's kind and it's such a harrowing story.

As a documentary, Tower is really good and riveting. But what sets it apart from the crowd is how director Keith Maitland let's the story unfold, and in all honesty, I hadn't seen a documentary presented in this way before. He uses animation and voice actors to recreate the events, and then mixes in vintage footage and new interviews with the actual people who lived that ordeal, who were actually there that fateful day 51 years ago, and it's in this unusual way of telling the story that captivates you.

I'll admit, it took me a little while to get used to it, because I didn't know it was going to be animation, and initially, that's all you see. I thought it was a documentary, and it is, and it does eventually begin to incorporate real footage from that day as well as new interviews. Even so, once you get used to the story being told through animation, it grabs you and becomes highly engrossing. It's a clever and inventive way of telling the story through the eyes of those who lived it, and this ranks as one of the strongest documentaries I've seen in a while.

How to watch it:
Netflix is currently offering it, and you can purchase it directly from it's official website at www.towerdocumentary.com.

Mommy Dead and Dearest (2016)

Here's another fascinating and disturbing documentary about a murder case that is as riveting as it is mind-blowing. Unfortunately this is one I can't divulge too much on as it will spoil the surprise and many twists and turns this story takes. So unless you're familiar with this case, it's best to go in cold, which is how I went it. I knew nothing about this story, which surprises me since I'm a news junkie, especially when it comes to crime stories. Yet somehow this one flew right under my radar and what's even more surprising is that this is fairly recent.

But trust me when I say that this story will kind of blow your mind. 20 minutes in and the twists and turns this took really caught me off guard in the best possible way, and I highly recommend checking this one out.

How to watch it:
Unfortunately at this time this one is a little harder to get to. It was an HBO production, and premiered on their channel. You can watch it only through HBO on one of their apps, which I know is available as an extension through Amazon for an extra fee. If you have HBO, you're in luck. If you don't, it will be a bit tricky, but well worth the effort.


Revisiting Last Action Hero (1993)

I'll be honest. There was just something about this film that never clicked with me. I went to the theater to see it, and I remember owning it on VHS, but I never remember actually loving it. I liked it enough to get it on tape when it came out, but I also remember that there were things about it that bugged me. For starters, at the time, I didn't like how John McTiernan had shot it. I felt it looked too gritty and it reminded me a lot of what he did with Die Hard 3 two years later, which I also didn't like at the time. And there were moments where his camerawork was just odd and goofy (I'll explain later), leaving me wondering just what the hell he was thinking? This was the same guy who directed legendary films like Predator and Die Hard? So I've pretty much avoided it for many, many years, not having the slightest itch to revisit it. But then all of a sudden I did out of nowhere. All of a sudden I really wanted to see this again and see if my initial feelings still rang true. I was close to purchasing a very cheap blu ray of it when I discovered it was currently for free on Crackle. Yes! So let's dig in.

I loved it. I absolutely loved every second of this. This was exactly what I was hoping for all those years ago, and it blows my mind that I just didn't "get it", or just didn't enjoy it until now. Truth is, it's a pretty great and highly clever film that does a fantastic job at giving us some highly entertaining action sequences, characters and plot, while also poking fun at itself. And I think that's part of what I just didn't get back in the day. Maybe it wasn't made clear enough in the marketing, so when I saw it I was confused? Who knows? That was a long time ago. I look at it now and it's painfully clear what their intent was and best of all, it works! So I have to ask, why did it bomb? Why was it a stain on Schwarzenegger's and McTiernan's career rather than a triumph?

Of all the things that surprised me upon this revisit, none of them more than my feelings towards John McTiernan's approach to directing in this one. It's beautiful and amazing and I feel like I understand why I might not have been a big fan of it before. Other than the one time I saw it in a theater, all of the other times were on VHS, in dreaded full frame/pan & scan. Upon this revisit, I was painfully aware that this is the kind of film that needs to be seen in widescreen. There were little moments that I had always thought were odd before, but seeing them now in widescreen, they were made more clear, because before there were parts of the scene missing since it was cut into full frame. And the film itself at times comes off as being gritty, especially in the New York sequences, and again, seeing them on VHS only made them grittier. But seeing them in digital form and in widescreen, well they just popped and looked so much better. McTiernan's camera work does wonders for the film and proves yet again that he's a master at shooting action sequences, even if most of them are highly exaggerated, which of course was done on purpose.

The best parts are obviously the moments within the fictional Jack Slater IV movie where everything is dialed up to 11. But the sequences that take place in the real world, though much more gritty, also offer up equal amounts of entertainment. In fact, there's never a dull moment to be found, never a time when my eyes wandered towards the clock to see how much time I'd already spent watching this. In fact, even though it clocks in at a bit over 2 hours, it just didn't seem long enough. McTiernan and co-writer Shane Black fill the film with so many nods to other classics (most outside of the action genre) and inside jokes that my wife was just having a blast, especially with the running gag of F. Murray Abraham (a co-worker of Jack Slater on the police force in Jack Slater IV) and the fact that he killed Mozart in Amadeus, which just happens to be one of her all-time favorite films. And that right there was just one of many clever tongue-in-cheek moments that make this one a bit refreshing. The endless barrage of killer cameos also add to it's appeal.

The phrase I keep hearing over and over is that this was "ahead of it's time", when describing why it didn't do well at the box office. When you watch it now, it's just a great film in general, even if you don't like action films. It's funny, clever, entertaining, and the action certainly delivers by the truckloads. But again, I have to wonder, would it have been more successful had it come out today? Though it's a film we've had many years to revisit and digest, my gut still tells me that it would not, especially today, where the film industry seems more and more fickle and harder and harder to generate a legitimate hit, especially with the skyrocketing costs of making films today. I feel that this film is still too clever and too original for it's own good to become a box office hit in the theaters, mirroring it's lukewarm reception when first released 24 years ago. And what makes it even more mind-boggling is the fact that nearly everyone involved, director John McTiernan, writer Shane Black and star Arnold Schwarzenegger, were all in their prime and at the top of their game. What are your thoughts?

Last Action Hero has only aged considerably well over time. Though I've seen it numerous times over the years, it wasn't until seeing it as a 41 year old adult that I really, truly appreciated it and understood everything it was attempting to achieve, and succeeding in spades. Outside of that mindset, it's also just an incredibly satisfying action film made at just the right time and delivering the goods tenfold.


80's Thriller Throwback: Out of Bounds

Directed by:
Category; Thriller

Easily one of the more memorable films I remember watching in this genre back as a kid in the 80's, this one ultimately proved to be more difficult to track down simply due to the fact that it's never gotten a legitimate DVD release still to this day. So VHS and Laserdisc was my only option, and unfortunately, the VHS doesn't come cheap. Or, it doesn't come as cheap as it should, rarely ever showing up for under $20. Not knowing whether this was actually any good or not made that price tag something that kept me from pulling the trigger countless times. Eventually I found a pretty beat up tape on eBay for just over $10. Still too high for my liking but it was the cheapest I'd seen in forever. So let's dig in.

A farm boy (Anthony Michael Hall) heads to LA to stay with his older brother after high school. It couldn't be a better time for him either, since his parent's relationship soured and things are rough at home. When he accidentally grabs an identical duffel bag belonging to a drug dealer (Jeff Kober) full of heroin at the airport, the owner will do anything it takes to get it back. With the help of a friendly waitress (Jenny Wright) he befriended on the plane, he tries to outsmart the drug dealer while also trying to convince the cops that he's innocent and it was all a mixup. 

While it ended up being a pretty great thriller, I don't think it justifies charging $20 for an old VHS tape. That's pretty much the thing that kept running through my head until it was over. I kept hoping something would happen, or that the gears would shift dramatically to WTF? territory (the way Band of the Hand did) that would justify people charging ridiculous prices for an old VHS tape that really isn't all that in demand. Yet it was a good film, with strong performances (especially from Hall), a solid soundtrack (there's even a sequence that takes place in a club where Siouxsie and the Banshee's are performing), and an entertaining cat-and-mouse game that keeps you on your toes. Had the film been missing any one of these elements, it would easily have become forgettable. Thankfully it isn't, and whether you are a fan of these types of films or not, you can't deny that it's an expertly crafted thriller full of style and substance.

One of the things that really makes this a standout is it's excellent cast. While Jeff Kober (as the resident villain and drug dealer) always turns in a winning performance as the villain, it's really Anthony Michael Hall who shines in this one. Having just come off a string of John Hughes comedies like Sixteen Candles and Weird Science, along with a drama in The Breakfast Club, taking the lead in an action/thriller was a huge change of course for the guy and he couldn't have pulled it off more flawlessly. Even though I kept seeing Gary Wallace or Farmer Ted, it's his attitude and confidence that really sells it. He's still a young guy, but he's definitely grown and matured in the year or two since his John Hughes days, and carries himself with an air of bravado that really goes a long way. It ends up coming off as shocking, but in a pleasant way. And he sells the shit out of it.

The biggest thing about this film that surprises me the most is not how good it is or how strong the performances are, but rather in the team behind the camera. For starters, the sole writing credit is credited to Tony Kayden, who's done mostly television work, with his only other standout being the 1989 sci-fi film Slipstream, that costarred Mark Hamill and Bill Paxton, and directed by Tron helmer Steven Lisberger. Yet I don't ever hear much about Slipstream to begin with, so I'm not sure if that's even a good example. But Out of Bounds is directed by a guy by the name of Richard Tuggle, who's only ever directed 2 films in his entire career, the Clint Eastwood thriller Tightrope (which he also wrote) and this one. So there's a sort of strange combining of forces that came together at just the right time to deliver a film that easily proves that despite a somewhat lacking track record, they can still pull off a highly effective and engrossing thriller in an over-saturated market.

I hope this gets a legitimate Blu Ray release someday. For the life of me, I can't understand why it hasn't happened yet, or why it's never been found on DVD for that matter in all these years. Hall is somewhat of a revelation in this, and Jeff Kober does what he does best and does it well here. The impossibly cute Jenny Wright (Near Dark) also does a splendid job in her role as the trusting friend who gets sucked into the nightmare. Solid direction, a tightly wound script and razor-sharp tension outline a film that is begging to be rediscovered.


Beyond the Gates Film Review

Directed by: Jackson Stewart
Category: Horror

It seems the 80's throwback wave is in full swing these days, with a large number of under-the-radar films coming at us at breakneck pace. So fast in fact that it's hard for me to keep track of what's coming out, what's trying to get funded through a crowd-funding campaign, and what's hitting the festival circuit. This one just seemed to come out of nowhere for me. I knew nothing about it and I had never even heard of it until it first hit On Demand a short while ago. Unlike The Void, which had been generating a lot of buzz right from the beginning with it's crowd-funding campaign, this one really flew under the radar....for me anyway. So ever since it hit On Demand, I'd been eyeing to rent it through Amazon, but never got around to it. Fast forward a few months and Netflix is now offering it. Yes! So here we go.

2 adult brothers, who obviously don't spend a lot of time together, are forced to reconnect after the disappearance of their father. As they begin clearing out their father's Video Store, they find an old VCR game that was locked away in a safe. Curious, they begin to play it, only to discover that this very game may be the reason for his disappearance. 

Beyond the Gates was a refreshing bit of horror for a number of reasons. While it's not mind-blowing, it's well done and entertaining enough to come off as being better than a lot of other recent 80's horror throwback films in the last few years. In short, it was really good and a lot of fun, but it wasn't great. This one is unique though. It clocks in at just under an hour and a half, making it a breeze to sit through, and unlike a lot of the other films that claim to be a throwback, this one actually looked and felt like one. The camerawork, lighting and synth score all lend themselves to an authentic experience, the kind that The Void was unable to pull off effectively. Writer/Director Jackson Stewart does a competent job behind the camera, not over stylizing the film, which is exactly what it needed to produce that specific throwback feeling. Unlike films like The Void, The Minds Eye and Almost Human for example, where the director or directors forget what an 80's horror film used to look like, instead deciding to shoot them using handheld, giving it the annoying shaky-cam look, which ultimately just comes off as lazy.

The whole angle about summoning the world beyond through the use of a vintage VCR game makes this one a standout among the crowd. The nostalgia factor is big here, and it's because of that I personally really enjoyed it. I know nostalgia isn't everyone's cup of tea, and that it doesn't guarantee a success, but I found it actually worked well in this one. I used to play these terrible VCR games, and still have my Robocop version, which I purchased at Service Merchandise (remember them!?) after the release of the first film in 1987. It's a terribly boring game but a cool thing to look at sitting on my shelf. But this was a clever and unique way to tackle the throwback genre, which is already beginning to feel stale and overly saturated. And let's be honest, most of these end up being "misfires". So it was nice to actually have one that we legitimately enjoyed for the most part.

Barbara Crampton, the big name headlining this project, does a fantastic job in the role of the VCR Game host. Sure you only ever see her on a black and white TV screen, but even in this limited capacity, boy does she leave an impression. Honestly, I couldn't think of anyone else who could have effectively pull this off, other than Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson. The rest of the cast do a fine job in their respective roles, especially the main guy, Graham Skipper, who also just happened to star in The Minds Eye and Almost Human, 2 other throwbacks from writer/director Joe Begos that did some things well but ultimately didn't provide the full experience you were hoping for. So Beyond the Gates, while not perfect, was to me, a better more fulfilling experience.

If I had anything to complain about, it would be 2 things. The first being that they really missed out on a great opportunity to cast a cult icon in the role of the missing father. My mind immediately went to someone like Bill Moseley. But hell, someone as recognizable as Bruce Davison would also work. Sure it's a small role, but it could have really been a memorable one with the right casting. And then there's the slightly abrupt ending that tied everything up nice and neat. I didn't seem to think it was as "abrupt" as others, but I found it oddly quick, without much of a payoff. It's a cool ending mind you, but with the buildup, you kind of expect more.

All in all, a highly satisfying little film that did what most others try to do and fail. The acting is on point, and the use of certain colors, a retro synth score (important!), and a very pleasing visual aesthetic all make for a film experience that's surprisingly enjoyable.

How to see it:
The best option right now it that it's streaming on Netflix. For how long is anyone's guess, but since it just became available it should be there for a good amount of time. You can currently pick up the DVD and Blu for fairly cheap, running you from $10-$20.


80's Action Attack!: Lone Wolf McQuade

Directed by: Steve Carver
Category: Action

I grew up on a serious dose of Chuck Norris as a kid in the 80's. He was always my favorite of the mid 80's action hero's, next to Schwarzenegger, and I had always considered this my favorite of his films. But then I revisited Invasion U.S.A. a while back and that immediately shot up to the top of that list, knocking this film off until a proper revisit to see which can hold that mantle. That time is now, so let's dig in.

One of the first things I noticed immediately that I hadn't before was that director Steve Carver shoots this like a spaghetti western, and no sequence is more representative of this than the opening. It's nearly mind blowing how much this looks and plays out like one, complete with an incredible score by Francesco De Masi, eerily reminiscent of Ennio Morricone. I'm telling you, you'll be humming it for days. And it's this fantastic opening that really grabbed me, easily making it one of the best openings to a film I've ever seen.

While the rest of the film doesn't stick to this clever and fantastic opening sequence, it does do a decent job of trying to, while also delivering a solid 80's action film. I don't think they could have made it look like an old Italian western for the whole thing, mainly because of the fact that it can't help that it's set in 1983. So for the most part, it looks and feels like a mid 80's action film set in Texas. Meaning, there's lots of dirt, cactus, sweat, sun, and beer. I should know, I live in Texas.

Lone Wolf McQuade is awesome, and easily one of Norris' best films ever. It also helps that it's practically tailor made to suite his very specific acting chops. McQuade is pretty stone cold for most of the film, delivering his lines without an air of character or depth, which suits the character to a "T". Unemotional, even when it comes to a high class woman who literally throws herself at him, and uncaring in the same breath. Norris doesn't even have to try here. He's playing the character as if it's his life.

Lone Wolf McQuade is about as entertaining as they come. The film never slows down to ponder anything, other than when is the next ass whooping going to take place. And it was really refreshing to see Norris use his martial arts skills quite frequently in here when I'm so used to seeing him rarely ever use it. It sounds strange but it's true. He may throw in a kick from time to time, but he hardly ever uses his martial arts skills in any of his films. So that was a bit refreshing. And it's also helpful that director Steve Carver does an excellent job behind the camera, giving the film every bit of grit and style it richly deserves, easily making it one of the better looking films from this genre and this time period.

Of course being that this was the 80's, the decade of excess, even a low-key film like this can't get by without offering at least one single moment of ridiculous cheesy awesome. And in Lone Wolf McQuade, even though the entire film plays it straight, that scene is hands down one of the best in the entire film. I'm talking about the "buried underground with his bronco" scene. If you've seen the film, then you know what I'm talking about. It's quite simply the best scene in the film, but also the most ridiculous, which makes it all the more awesome.

And then there's the one and only David Carradine as the villain. Carradine is such a badass in here, and what makes it interesting and amusing is the fact that he's a fairly normal looking guy. and about average size too, so he's not physically imposing or anything, which surprises you that he can come off as that simply from his attitude and charisma. Like, he acts like he can walk into a room and kick every ass in it, and that's what makes him so memorable, even in his older age. Also, kicking ass in a pastel colored sweater and slacks also works. Or maybe it's just Carradine who can pull that off?

Lone Wolf McQuade still stands as one of Chuck Norris' best films, solidifying it as a classic of Badass Cinema. Around this time, Norris was going toe-to-toe with Charles Bronson for the "tough guy" mantle, but their days were numbered because this was also the time when Stallone and Arnold were making their presence known in the action genre, and by the end of the decade, a whole new breed of action hero would emerge with Van Damme, Seagal and Dolph Lundgren all vying for that top spot. By the 90's, Bronson and Norris would keep going, but finding more success in television.


Stephen King's Cat's Eye Film Review

VHS scan courtesy of VHSArchive.blogspot.com
Shockingly, I have no clear memories of watching this, even though I know I did, other than the little troll sitting on a young Drew Barrymore's chest while trying to suck her breath out. That's all I remember about this film and so when I decided to revisit it the other day, I was shocked to learn that it was in fact a horror anthology; 3 different stories all tied together loosely by the cat that is featured prominently in all 3 stories. I recently stumbled upon a VHS tape of this for free, which was welcome since I didn't want to spend on the blu ray not knowing if it's actually any good. So let's dig in.

I will say that I really enjoyed this, but my wife did not. I will also say that I wouldn't call this a horror film, even though it's clearly marketed as one. It's really more of a thriller than anything, with the first 2 stories being so significantly different from the third story, which does fall a bit into the horror genre, but also comes off as silly, which was my wife's biggest complaint. With this being only his second film screenplay written solely by himself after Creepshow (1982), there was a lot riding on his shoulders, which surprises me even more to realize that this isn't even a horror film, but more of a black comedy/thriller. And really, the first 2 stories, one dealing with a smoker who hires a company to help him quit smoking, and the second one about a mob boss type guy who punishes and tortures the man who stole his girlfriend, are gold and easily the best stories in this film. The last one, about a troll who attempts to steal the life force of a young girl while she sleeps, comes so far out of left field compared to the other 2 stories that it kind of throws you for a loop. Personally, I still found it entertaining, because it's a great example of practical effects and makeup work via 1985, and through the talents of Carlo Rombaldi (Dune, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind).

Directed by Lewis Teague 2 years after his first Stephen King adaptation Cujo, Cat's Eye is a fascinating film for different reasons. I really enjoyed it's mid 80's setting, which adds a lot to it's entertainment value. But it's the cast that really surprised me. For starters, I had no idea James Woods was in this, which automatically elevates this to 100 degrees better than it would have been had he not been in it. But then there's Robert Hay's (TV's Starman, Airplane), Alan King (Casino), Candy Clark (The Man Who Fell to Earth), and a host of other notable character actors, which makes this a pretty fun experience, if anything than for the eclectic cast that all bring their special talents to the table.

Going back to Teague, I've personally never been that much of a fan of his work. To me he comes off as an everyman director. Meaning, he gets the job done, no fuss, no frills. He doesn't possess any particular quality that would easily make his work or films identifiable as a Lewis Teague film. In fact, most people don't even know his name for that very same reason. For the most part, I find his visuals to be fairly bland and highly uninteresting, which only adds to his films being pretty forgettable, which is probably why he began to do straight to video and television stuff after The Jewel of the Nile. That's not to say that Cat's Eye is bad or uninteresting, because it's not. It's just on a visual level, it's got a long way to go to grab you or stimulate your senses aesthetically.

While not a home run, it's certainly a fun film to watch. The performances from a host of respectable actors bring this film to life in more ways than one, and the "thriller" tone, while a surprise, gives the film a big aura of respect. I think a lot of people were probably thrown off by it "not" being a horror film, but I found it amusing and one of this film's many unique qualities. Is it as good as Creepshow? No, not by a long shot. But it's still an interesting and respectable piece of work from a master storyteller.


Resurrecting my Vintage Toy Blog...

Hey guys, just wanted to let you know, if you care, that though it's been 2 years since my last post on my vintage toy blog, I've since gotten back into the vintage toy collecting game, and I will start posting on there on more of a regular basis as I've been acquiring lots and lots of vintage toys and action figures from my youth. So head on over to Robo-Bit for my latest post, a recent vintage toy lot I acquired that gave me the bug again. Cheers! 


80's Action Attack!: Getting Even

Directed by: Dwight H. Little

A few years ago I randomly happened upon this film while browsing eBay. The cover grabbed me enough that I got onto IMDB to learn all I could about this film, which was this: It's from 1986, stars television soap actor Edward Albert, costars 80's babe Audrey Landers (of the Landers sisters) and Joe Don Baker. But most importantly for me, it was an early action film from Dwight H. Little, who would go onto classics like Steven Seagal's Marked for Death and the Brandon Lee film Rapid Fire, as well as dipping his toes into the horror genre with films like Halloween 4 and Robert Englund's Phantom of the Opera, before fading into television work. But seeing it wasn't going to be so easy. It's never been released on DVD, only VHS as far as I can tell, and that VHS never comes cheap either. I've never come across it for under $10-$15, and for a film that I've never seen, that's awfully steep, especially when you take into account every copy I've ever found was pretty beat up to begin with. Luckily, I happened upon a fellow collector and acquired it in a trade. So let's dig in......finally.

Getting Even was badass. Plain and simple. There was so much that surprised me about this, things I was not expecting to find. Like, for example, it's ridiculously high on Texas pride. I know a lot of films just happen to take place in Texas, but I'd never seen one where it was so in your face. I mean, just because you live in Texas does not mean you have a Southern accent, or randomly spout out "Don't mess with Texas!" in the middle of a gunfight in Afghanistan, but they sure as hell do in this film and it's hilarious. I should know, I live in Texas and I do not have a southern accent nor do we say things like "Don't mess with Texas". But most everyone in the film does, including lead Edward Albert, who tries so hard but only comes off as a caricature because it's so forced and utterly ridiculous, yet highly amusing at the same time. And of course, Joe Don Baker, the villain, doesn't need to try at all. That's just him and he gives it 100% in here and it's awesome.

What threw me off quite frequently with Getting Even is the fact that it constantly shifts from looking and feeling like a Made-for-TV movie, albeit violent, with a lot of action, some nudity and a whole lot of swearing, to looking and feeling like a solid action film, one that could rival any big budget film from that time. But even in the Made-for-TV moments, it's still a satisfying action film, delivering all the things you want and more. And that always throws you off, because it has such a Dallas/Falcon Crest TV Show aura about it, but it's violent, and there's random unnecessary nudity.

The story involves a poison gas that kills on impact, and a Bruce Wayne-type billionaire industrialist who also freelances as a spy/soldier. When he steals the gas from the Russians and brings it to the U.S., it's quickly stolen and brings on a series of events involving double-crosses, ransoms, revenge and world dominance. As far as story and structure goes, it's pretty straight-forward, but what sells it is the hammy delivery by all involved, and it's hilariously cheesy dialogue that will constantly make you ask "Did I really just hear that?". It's fantastic.

I have to say though that one of the films biggest draws is not Audrey Landers, but rather Edward Albert as "Tag" Taggar. The guy really gives one helluva bravado performance, even if it is just way too hammy to be taken seriously, with his ridiculous mustache being a character all it's own. I would have loved to see Albert make more of these, like if it had become a series of films. His character alone warrants more, but it's Albert's portrayal of a Southern Bruce Wayne-like mysterious figure who can be both a hard badass and a suave ladies man that seals the deal. Too bad, Getting More Even and Getting Evener would have been fun.

Getting Even is absolutely worth your time if you love low-budget action films. Or hell, even if you just enjoy them in general, there's plenty to like here. It would also be a welcome addition to Bad Movie Night, because the ridiculousness of it all just constantly elicits a laugh or an audible "WTF?". It's pure cheesy entertainment at it's best and trust me when I say that you will not be disappointed with this film.

How to see it:
As mentioned before, it's never gotten an official DVD or Blu Ray release, and I've never seen a Laserdisc, so as far as I can tell, it's only on VHS. Of course you can find some bootleg's online I'm sure. Rent to stream isn't available anywhere either, so this really seems to be one of the harder films to get your hands on.


Revisiting Joe Dante's Innerspace

Directed by: Joe Dante

Innerspace was an interesting experience in that I doubt this film would have been made the same way today. Revisiting it so many, many years and decades removed from it's original release showed me how hard it would be to even categorize this. While it's clearly a comedy, it's not actually funny. Much like comedies from this time period, you know that technically on the surface that's what it's intention is, yet you don't actually laugh. It's lighthearted enough to justify calling it a comedy, but nothing in the film actually elicits a laugh. To me, it felt more like a thriller than anything, and that's one of the things that surprised me about this highly engrossing and entertaining film more than anything.

Directed by Joe Dante between Explorers (1985) and The 'Burbs (1989), Innerspace came out in a very incredible year for film in 1987, which ultimately was a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. If memory serves me well, I recall it not doing well and kind of getting lost in the crowd of big films like Predator, Lethal Weapon, The Lost Boys, The Untouchables Evil Dead 2, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Robocop and so on. However, it did contain quite a number of memorable elements about it. For starters, the effects work is pretty remarkable. So remarkable in fact that I specifically remember Innerspace actually being nominated for an Oscar for it's visual effects work that year, ultimately winning that award. And then there's the cast, who really shine here, but none more than Martin Short. If there was ever a movie that perfectly captured his very specific and unique brand/style of physical comedy, it's Innerspace. Short is a marvel as he literally uses his body as a tool to movie the film forward, the way an action star would do it in an action film. Yet, here in this film, it's not very different. Whether the role demanded it or not, Short thrusts his body head-first into the action and I constantly found myself amazed at his physicality, either when he's trying to be funny physically, or in moments like when he's dangling from the back of a high speed delivery truck and manages to land onto a moving convertible mustang, still standing. It's crazy, and I still can't figure out how they did that.

Then there's the lovely duo of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, but I don't need to go into that do I? Needless to say they met on this film and were married for 10 years. But one big surprise for me was having Vernon Wells in this as a hitman who never utters a word and uses a snap-on style hand for weapons, which rules, making him arguably the coolest character in the film. But as it's a Joe Dante film, you've got a healthy dose of cameo's and regular's like the one and only Dick Miller for example.

Though released on Indepedence Day weekend, tragically Innerspace got little promotion and little attention, resulting in a dud at the box office. I can only guess that maybe the studio and marketing department just didn't know how to market it since for a comedy, it isn't funny, yet for an action/thriller/adventure, it's hard to push one starring a comedian who just appeared in Three Amigos! the year before. Yet that's why this film works as well as it does. It's full of the unexpected and the un-definable in a very unspecific 80's way. Not being "laugh out loud" funny doesn't take away from your enjoyment of this immensely entertaining action/adventure/thriller and it contains just enough lighthearted moments to make you believe that it is in fact a comedy, even if it doesn't feel like one for the most part. It's pure 80's nostalgic entertainment at it's best. Just the effects work alone will blow your mind, but if you pay attention, there is so much more this film has to offer, so many things going on below the surface that makes this a wholly unique viewing experience.


80's Attack!: Krull Film Review

I know this is the soundtrack cover, but I think it looks better than the poster.
This is a film that has been on my radar forever now, mainly because I've been after the original RCA VHS release of this for a little while and I can't seem to find it at a decent price, and I suppose that because of that, it's been on my mind a lot lately. Not to mention I've been on a huge 80's kick these past few months, devouring a ton of 80's films, some of which I've never seen, and some I'm re-discovering all over again. With Krull, I do remember seeing it when I was a kid, but it's literally been several decades, like a good 30 years at least, since I've last seen it. And being as it's not a film that's rarely ever mentioned, I guess you could say I went in with some reservations. When I found a 2-Pk DVD set of this along with Spacehunter for just $5 at Target, I just couldn't pass it up. So let's dig in.

I absolutely LOVED this film. I loved it so much in fact that I'm pissed at myself for having waited so long to revisit it. To me Krull felt like a perfect blend of Star Wars, Excalibur and The Princess Bride all rolled into a single film. It's pure fantasy at it's absolute best and I'm shocked that it doesn't get more love or recognition, because it totally deserves it.

I think for me, the thing that really blew my mind (of which there were many), was it's oddly eccentric, yet fascinatingly beautiful set design. I don't even know how to describe it. It's dark, with touches of H.R. Giger, but more streamlined and fantastical. It's honestly breathtaking in it's design and I've never seen a film that utilized it in such a grande scale practically. I mean, if you haven't seen this in a while, the sets will blow your mind. And while there are a lot of practical effects work like composite shots, the sets themselves are real, and they're big. It wasn't until after I saw this that I did some digging and learned that for it's time, it was the most expensive film ever made, with 23 sets built just for this film.

Then you have an impressive cast that while the majority of them are a bit unknown to me, especially the lead, Ken Marshall, who did a great job as the prince, but would take a 5 year break from acting after this film until appearing in the comedy Feds in 1988, there were a few that surprised me, like a young Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane for starters. And I have no problem admitting that I fell completely in love with Lysette Anthony as princess Lyssa. Gorgeous and redhead, she captivated me from the very first moment she appeared on screen. It's just, I don't know. This film was just a series of constant surprises, right down to the casting, and I loved every second of it.

Essentially a story about a newly crowned prince who sets off on a journey, with the help of a band of men he meets along the way, to rescue his kidnapped bride from the clutches of an alien being that has kidnapped her, Krull throws in so many other elements and genre's, some of them dark, that even though it's Rated PG, it doesn't take away from the experience at all. You're so engrossed into this fantastical world of lasers, swords, sorcery, cyclops, and an evil alien that though the film is filled with violence, rarely is blood shown on screen, which isn't a bad thing. Blood would just seem weird in this world since so much of it is pure fantasy. But every detail from the costume design, the production design, the special effects and Peter Yates direction all work so well in complimenting each other in a very slick and stylized way.

If there was anything I would complain about, it would be the design and execution of the villain. He just didn't work and came off as too weird to make any real sense. Though I like the idea behind him, in a practical sense, he never comes off as threatening, instead just being too......silly. Is he a giant? Does he always just stand in a mysterious room alone 24 hours a day? And while his design is clearly inspired by Giger, the main issues come from his head design. I won't get too into it, but you'll know what I mean when you see him. But really, that's my one and only complaint.

So much of this film is a mish-mash of the bizarre, but it works! I can't explain it, and it boggles the mind to think that this wasn't a hit, and that it hasn't endured a successful cult status. I don't get it. It has everything you'd want in a fantasy film, and the fact that it was made in 1983 only makes it all the more special. The effects work, for the most part, are breathtakingly impressive in their execution and scale. I watch a film like this, and then I think about films like LotR and wonder why films look cheaper today than they did over 30 years ago. Krull defied my expectations to the point that it exceeded them and I'm so happy I revisited this grossly underrated classic. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and get on it ASAP. If you have but it's been a while, again, what are you waiting for???

How to see it:
Luckily, it's a very easy film to get on the cheap from a number of different formats. The easiest and quickest one to get would be the Double Feature from Mill Creek of Krull and Spacehunter, which I found at Target for $5, and which is how I ultimately watched it. I've also seen it at Walmart and Kmart for the same price. Now I was skeptical going in since Mill Creek doesn't have the best track record, but I was pleasantly surprised by a very clear and strong transfer. In fact, I was so impressed by this DVD that I won't bother upgrading to the Blu Ray, also available from Mill Creek as a bare bones disc for about $7.50, also found at every major department store. While this Double Feature is absent of any special features, commentaries and trailers, it is thankfully in widescreen, which is really the only way to see this lavish production. If you're a "dead format" collector like myself, you can also find it on Laserdisc and VHS for around $15-$20, but you wont' see it in widescreen though, which is  shame. Just grab this Double Feature, because it's a great transfer and you get another lost gem with Spacehunter, one that I will get to very soon.


80's Throwback (1984): Siskel & Ebert Review Dune, Starman & Runaway

I know I've been a little absent lately, and while I work on a list of reviews, here's a fun throwback to 1984 where Siskel & Ebert review 3 amazing films back to back - 3 films I just happen to love. This vintage spot is amusing for a number of reasons, but I'll let you discover that for yourself. Needless to say, they hated Dune (not surprised), and sadly, the person that uploaded this video didn't have the aspect ratio set correctly so unfortunately, the video is stretched out. But hey, it's still a highly entertaining and fun watch. Enjoy.